154 operators in 66 countries that have demonstrated, are testing or trialling, or have been licensed to conduct field trials of 5G says GSA.
With respect to future 5G launches, 66 telecom operators in 37 countries have announced intentions of making 5G available to their customers from 2018 onwards. There are 10 launches planned to take place by the end of 2018 which includes US operators AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless, as well as the Bahrain-based Zain. Telecom operators in Estonia, Finland, Italy, Qatar, San Marino, Sweden and Switzerland will also join in 2018.
At least 17 more 5G networks are scheduled to become available in 2019. Among them are those operated by KT, SK Telecom and LG Uplus in South Korea; Optus in Australia; China Mobile; EE, UK; and Rostelecom, Russia.
2020 is likely to be an important year for 5G launches, with at least 26 networks currently scheduled to go live. Orange Slovensko and Telefonica Spain have expressed plans to launch 5G post-2020. The number of operators announcing schedules for the commercial introduction of 5G services is expected to rise substantially in the next year to 18 months or so as the first 5G-capable CPE devices and subsequently, smartphones, start to emerge.
Key 5G technologies being explored by mobile operators include new radio (NR) interfaces operating in spectrum bands not previously used for mobile services and network slicing to support delivery of services tailored to specific types of customer or service; combinations of technologies such as massive MIMO, or complex beamforming that are needed to achieve very high speeds; and backhaul, cloud- and edge-computing arrangements to support very low latencies.
The 3GPP standards for NR networks capable of running alongside existing LTE networks, using non-standalone (NSA) mode for enhanced mobile broadband, were agreed in December 2017. 3GPP Release 15 Standards for standalone (SA) 5G NR mode for enhanced mobile broadband networks were completed in June 2018. Further 5G standards evolution is expected in 3GPP Release 16, due to be completed by December 2019.
At least 67 projects have involved testing massive MIMO in the context of 5G. GSA has identified 92 demos, tests or trials of NR technologies and identified 21 projects that have explicitly featured network slicing. One use-case that has gained prominence is the use of 5G to deliver fixed wireless broadband services. We have identified 20 tests so far that have specifically focused on the fixed wireless access (FWA) use-case.
The 28 GHz band has been most used, followed by the 3.5 GHz band. Allocating the trials into wider spectrum ranges shows that sub-6 GHz spectrum has been most used, followed by spectrum between 24 GHz and 29.5 GHz. It is interesting to point out that most trials have achieved latencies of between 1 to 1.99 ms.
Six telecom operators in six countries – Elisa Finland, Elisa Estonia, Ooredoo Kuwait, Ooredoo Qatar, STC Saudi Arabia and Etisalat United Arab Emirates claim they have launched 5G networks in the past two months. Seventh operator – Zain Kuwait claims it has deployed and is commercially piloting a 5G network in selected locations. However, at present, the lack of commercially available 5G devices is hindering operators’ efforts to properly launch 5G services.